Christian thinking about the recent riots.

A Christian response to the riot

Although not all of us were affected by the riots last week, we were all taken by suprise. The scenes from across the country of streets, communities and lives being destroyed was not part of our summer plans. Many of us at St Helen's Bishopsgate, a central London church, were affected by the rioting and looting which took place in our city. To help us think about our response to the riots Andrew Sach, Charlie Skrine and Paul Clarke used our midweek meeting to get us thinking about what the bible says in light of such events.

Their excellent talks are avilable to download for free from our media library. Or you can read an outline of their session below.

It's concerning times for us in the UK. I wonder how you're feeling about the riots? Some of us are annoyed and angry others are worried or scared. In one way or another we've all been affected by the unusual and scary events of the last few days.

Charlie Skrine asked the question, ‘How should we feel about the riots?’ and pointed us to Psalm 121 to see three things that will help during these times:

The LORD is still in control v1. The psalmist asks where does his help come from in the time of trouble, when he is worried and scared. It’s a great question to ask in times of trouble, where do we look when things go wrong? Often we look to our own strength, ability or wisdom. We place our security in money, or the police, or work. However we need to be more like the psalmist.

The LORD is our helper and keeper v2+5. The psalmist looks to the LORD, the one who made heaven and earth. The one who is in control and is our helper. The one who is our keeper and our shade. When life gets fearful and worrying we need to turn to the LORD, the maker of the universe for our help and security. We need to trust that he is in control and that he is able to protect and care for us. And look why we can trust in the LORD for protection.

The LORD doesn't sleep v4. Unlike all our other idols (things we love and trust in) the LORD doesn’t sleep. In fact he is the only one that can keep and protect us. That’s exactly what the psalmist says in v6-8.

Dan and Tom helped us to think about how we might talk to our friends, neighbours and colleagues. They gave us some helpful tips here's a summary of what they said.

  1. It's a great time for us to help people in need. We could use the opportunity to show what a difference it makes being a Christian in the way we help out those in our communities. They suggested we take opportunity to check that those around us are safe, have everything they need and know that we are there to help.
  2. It's a wonderful opportunity to talk to people about Jesus. People will be feeling lots of different ways about the riots. Dan and Tom highlighted a couple of ways people might feel and how we might talk to them about the riots from a Christian perspective.
    •  Some were angry about the injustice of the riots and so it was suggested we talk to them about a day to come when justice will be done. The day when Jesus returns to wrap up history, a day where everyone will be held accountable for what they have done and there will be no injustice.
    •  Some were angry because their comfort, possessions and idols (things they love and trust in) were threatened. It was suggested that this is a great opportunity to talk about how weak, fragile and perishing the things they get their joy from are. Instead we could encourage them, as Jesus does in Matthew 6:19-24, to store up treasure in heaven.
    • Some were surprised by the amount of evil they were seeing. It was suggested that it was a great opportunity to talk to them about how the Bible says that humanity isn't good, in fact it's quite evil and what we're seeing is a clear reminder of how sick we all are. It's a great opportunity to talk about how we're all evil and how we all need to rely on Jesus' death for us. Maybe you have other experiences of talking to people about the riots, we'd love to hear how it went. Or maybe this will fuel you to be bold in talking about the riots to those around you.

Andrew Sach helped us think about the justice in the light of the riots. Pointing out five surprises about justice from Romans.

  1. The riots aren’t a sign of the absence of justice, but actually the presence of justice. Romans 1:28-32 shows that being given over to sin is actually an act of God’s judgement on a society that rejects Him. When these kind of things happen we often think that God doesn’t care, however Scripture clearly says that this is a sign of God caring deeply. It’s a sign of God’s anger and judgement on a nation that hates him.
  2. Those most enraged by the injustice can be equally guilty of it. Romans 2:1 zooms in on the most self righteous of people, the ones who pass judgement on others. However the passage is a warning that those who pass judgement are, in God’s eyes, guilty of the same thing. Maybe those who are passing judgement weren’t involved in the riots, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the same materialistic heart as those who were looting shops. Those who are passing judgement may not have been out on the street committing crimes on Monday, but what is their heart attitude when they aren’t being watched? Do they try and get away with stuff in a similar way. Those passing judgement could have been tucked up safely in bed as London burned, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the same materialistic lusts, guilt and desires in their hearts.
  3. Those who have got away with it won’t get away from it. People may not be spotted on the various CCTV cameras, or maybe won’t receive a punishment because of a justice system under such strain. Romans 2:5 points to a day of judgement that lies beyond the police reports and magistrates courts. A day when God’s right judgement will be revealed, a day when everyone will get exactly what they deserve.
  4. It’s ok to want vengeance, but trust it to God. As we see peoples livelihoods, homes and even lives taken it’s easy to want to pick up a scaffolding pole and take revenge. The bible doesn’t pretend that paying people back doesn’t matter, instead Romans 12:14 and 17-19 shows that God will pay people back and that we need to trust in him to do that.
  5. God has appointed police and courts to administer his justice. Romans 13:1-4 shows that God is the one who has established our authorities as his servants to ensure justice is done. Let's pray that we remember these things ourselves and remind others of them, as we speak the truth in love.

As the government and police think about how to stop any repeat of the rioting Paul Clarke helped us as a church think about how things in society can really change.

In the aftermath of the riots there seems to be two general schools of thought about how we can ensure this never happens again.

  1. One end of the spectrum says we need to get really tough. We need to wheel in the water cannons, impose curfews, have armed soldiers on the street, increase the number and power of the police force, bring back the cane, send the youth to Afghanistan or impose Sharia law.
  2. The other end of the spectrum says we need to give youngsters more opportunites to create a life for themselves. They say we need to create more jobs for young people, keep youth clubs open, allow them to get involved in communities more and give them hope and vision for the future.

While some of these things will help in the short term, changing the behaviour of people, they will only cover up the deeper problem of people’s hearts. The bible says everyone has a heart problem, a problem that is so significant that it ruins every part of society. But before we despair Hebrews 8:10-12 gives us great hope. It shows how lives can be changed, not through social engineering or self help but only by the power of the gospel. 

    • Heb 8:12 shows us that Jesus will start to bring change by bringing forgiveness.
    • Heb 8:11 shows that Jesus’ death brings relationship with God,
    • Heb 8:10 shows that this leads to transformed lives.

Sadly anything but the gospel is a sticking plaster because only the gospel has the power to change people, and so society for the better. Let’s pray that those who took part in and were affected by the riots will hear the good news of the love, forgiveness and community that comes through the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

How we might stop this happening again? What were you thinking as you saw the crowds of hoodies gathering? Were you angry? Frustrated? Annoyed? Worried? Scared? Paul pointed out how Jesus responded to crowds when he saw them in Matthew 9:36-38. When confronted with crowds Jesus has compassion because they were harassed and helpless.

It’s a challenging thought for us. Do we think those involved in the riots need Jesus? As we watched the mobs attacking the police, torching cars and looting shops were we thinking ‘these poor people need Jesus’?

The truth is only the gospel will change peoples hearts, knowing this Jesus tells us to pray for gospel ministers to be raised up and sent out into this harvest field. Want to know what will stop the riots and change London for the good? Want to know why we’re so keen to church plant and train leaders of the church? Want to know why we hold onto the gospel so clearly? It’s because it’s the only thing that will change London and the world.The riots remind us of the priority for the gospel to be going out into the world. In all our prayers for the riots, lets remember to pray to the Lord of the harvest to raise up ministers and send them out into the harvest field of London.

Finally Charlie Skrine helped us think about how we might riot proof our lives.

In Matthew 6:19-34 we see how Jesus helps Christians live in times of trouble and distress. We can break the passage into two parts.

  1. Make your treasure riot proof Matt 6:19-24. One of the scary things about the riots were just how easily our treasure was destroyed. Cars, homes and workplaces were burnt in minutes. Jesus tells us to store up treasure where it won’t rust, or be destroyed or stolen. We shouldn’t live for and love things that we find on earth. Our hope security and treasure should not be placed in what we own or find here on earth but in eternity with our heavenly father. The riots have been a great reminder how temporary everything on earth is.
  2. Trust your heavenly father Matt 6:25-34. Jesus goes on to talk about how we shouldn’t be anxious because our heavenly father cares for the birds and the flowers and yet we are more important than them. God will care for us and care for us. Charlie reminded us we have a loving father in heaven so we can trust in Him.

 Let’s pray we might be people who store up treasure in heaven and trust God.

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